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Microwave buying guide: how to buy a microwave to fit your needs

Few appliances have changed as much as the microwave in the past few decades. While initially bulky and cumbersome, microwaves of the past were designed to function as a new kind of oven for large items such as turkeys and hams. Microwaves today, in contrast, are smaller & sleeker in appearance, designed for convenience cooking in the kitchen. For those looking to heat-n-eat leftovers, warm up a beverage or make popcorn for movie night, a microwave is something you just can’t live without.

Used more than one may think, a microwave is often treated as an afterthought in the course of a kitchen project. But most kitchens are still incomplete without one, and consumers are often surprised by the innovative features and superior performance of modern microwaves. So we’ve designed this buying guide to help you determine the size, installation application and microwave features that will be best for your kitchen.

To begin, use the following questions to help navigate through the key components of buying a microwave. Find in-depth information on the topics listed below by simply clicking on any of the following links:

I want to learn more about microwave styles

Generally, the number one questions regarding the addition of a microwave in the kitchen isn’t what cooking features, color, or size is needed, but rather where will it be installed. Understanding the different styles of microwaves along with the unique advantages of each one can be of help in the course of planning your kitchen.

Counter top Microwaves
Counter top microwaves represent a very commonly used style, especially in smaller home designs like apartments or lofts. When first introduced to the market years ago, microwaves were so large and heavy that they required their own cart. Microwaves today are much smaller and sleeker. They range in size from 12 -24″ wide, 9-16″ high, and 12-21″ deep. Completely finished on all sides, countertop microwaves rest easily on top of the counter or in a nook, provided there is sufficient space for the microwave to cool.

The counter top style is the most affordable microwave design and also provides the most versatile installation options. For consumers looking for a built-in appearance, many countertop microwaves offer matching trim kits which allow them to be built into a cabinet, still providing adequate breathing room for operation. A small number of models can be purchased with specialized hanging brackets that allow them to hang from the underside of a cabinet for a more non-traditional, space saving installation.

Over-the-range microwaves (microhoods)

Over-the-range microwaves, also known as microhoods, have become the best selling microwave style in the industry. In this application, the microwave, combined with a built-in hood fan can be installed over a range or built-in cooktop.

The microhood connects to existing duct work for exterior ventilation, or recirculation can be an option when installed against an inside wall. The microhood is easily mountable with bracket screws and reinforcing toggle bolts which are installed through the upper cabinet and rear wall for added stabilization.

The microhood solves a common design problem. Most consumers would like to have a microwave and know they need one, but don’t like to give up countertop or cabinet space to a traditional countertop or built-in microwave. The over-the-range microwave frees up space by combining microwave function with range hood abilities. While generally more expensive than countertop models, microhoods have become increasingly less expensive while becoming more popular. One thing to note -if you are purchasing a professional range, make sure you purchase a microhood with proper heat shielding that can handle the heat output of higher outputs.

Built-in Microwaves
Just as wall ovens are designed to be built-in to cabinetry for a sleek appearance, microwaves can also be built-in. While many consumers opt to achieve this by using a counter top microwave with a trim kit, others prefer the drop-down door of a truly built-in model. This allows for easy access into the microwave cavity, especially in an under-counter installation. It also allows for a more congruent appearance with a matching wall oven.

Built-in microwaves generally include convection or speed baking technology, which allows them to be used as secondary ovens in a kitchen. This is especially useful when a consumer is considering a double oven, but isn’t sure they would use it enough to dedicate space to it. The built-in microwave is generally the most expensive microwave style.

Drawer
A new, modern microwave style is the microwave drawer. This style is designed to be built into cabinetry, just like a standard built-in microwave, but is unique as the microwave pulls open like a drawer & food is accessed from the top. Microwave drawers come in 30″ or 24″ widths, for use in varying applications.

For kitchens that are tight on space, or kitchens with unique layouts, the drawer style offers creative possibilities. In cases where traditional under-counter installation is required, top access provided by the drawer-style makes it very convenient. The microwave drawer can also be installed underneath a wall oven for symmetrical appearance. return to top

What microwave size and color will best fit my kitchen?

Microwave sizes are contingent on microwave style. Some microwave styles include counter top, over the range, built-in, or drawer. For more information on how these styles click here.

Counter top microwaves with trim kits, built-in microwaves and drawer styles are designed in varying widths of 24″, 27″, or 30″. Unit height varies, depending on the brand and model. Cutout measurements are always slightly smaller than the actual size, but built-in microwave styles are generally designed for cabinetry that is 24″ deep.

Please note: when installing a non-trimmed counter top microwave into a cabinet, some space will be needed along the sides, top, and back for ventilation. Check for details in the product installation guide as space requirements may vary for each model.

For small spaces and shallow cabinets, space-saving microwaves are ideal (see GE SpaceMaker models). It is important to note the location of the electrical outlet when planning to install into a cabinet. If the outlet is located directly behind the microwave, it will push the microwave away from the wall approximately 2-3 inches.

The majority of over-the-range microwaves are designed to fit in a 30″ wide opening to though a very small number of microwaves are designed for 36″ wide openings. As a general rule, from the top of cooking surface of the range to the bottom of the upper cabinets, there should be a minimum clearance of 30 inches.

If you are replacing an existing microhood, keep in mind that most new models are approximately 16 1/2″ high and 15 1/2″ deep. Microwaves today are slightly taller and deeper than older ones, which generally isn’t an issue but is important to note. If an adjacent cabinet is deeper than 15″ (which is extremely rare) you may need to purchase a microwave with the door hinge set slightly in from the left so that the door can open.

Most microwaves are now offered in black, white, bisque, or stainless steel. Stainless steel counter top microwaves feature black or stainless wrapped exteriors, while stainless steel models always have black exteriors. return to top

What is a convection microwave and how does it work?

A convection microwave has heating elements which are capable of operating independently of standard microwave cooking power. This allows the microwave to be used as a second oven when needed. When operating on their own, heating elements replicate the baking process of a standard oven. Also, by combining the use of standard heating elements with microwave power, preheat times can be reduced considerably and faster bake times can be achieved without sacrificing cooking quality. This process is generally referred to as speed cooking.

The convection microwave offers a reasonable solution to those who wish they had a double oven for the two or three days out of the year when entertaining large parties.

Typically, a convection microwave uses traditional heating elements (installed behind the side wall) and a fan in the oven cavity to circulate the heat. This movement of air is where the term convection is derived from. Some manufacturers use alternative heat sources for baking. For example, halogen elements rather than traditional heating elements can be used to accomplish the same function as convection, but achieving it faster. Halogen elements heat 2-4 times faster than standard heating elements without sacrificing any cooking quality. Other models incorporate unique elements such as an infrared broiler for restaurant quality searing. return to top

What are some unique features on new microwaves?

More cooking power
Some of the first microwaves in the industry were rated at 500-600 watts cooking power. Today, an 800-watt microwave is considered a lightweight as most models feature 1000-1200 watts of cooking power. The benefit of this feature to you: the higher the wattage, the more quickly the microwave can cook.

More even heat
Most microwaves have “hot spots” where food cooks at a higher rate, yielding uneven results. To solve this problem, the turntable has become a standard component in most microwaves. The turntable can be manually shut on or off in most. Some microwaves have a turntable that goes from side to side to accommodate large dishes. Other models eliminate the turntable altogether and instead use a rotating heating element to achieve more even cooking results.

Sensor cooking
Sensor cooking is a relatively new technology in microwaves. Sensors are used to gauge when the food is done by measuring the amount of steam dispersed by the heated food. When using sensor cook, the microwave shuts itself off automatically. This is useful to ensure that food is not overcooked or undercooked. return to top

Other features to consider:

  • Soften Function or Melt function: Capable of softening spreads such as butter or cream cheese, without ruining these delicate foods.
  • Internal Warming Lamp: Used to keep food warm until ready to be served.
  • Recessed Turntable: Frees up space for large dishes
  • Microwave Racks: Most manufacturers provide metal cooking racks in their microwave ovens. This allows for multi-level cooking / reheating. Racks are set on plastic knobs to prevent any metal-to-metal contact. This makes the racks microwave-safe and easy to remove.
  • Control Panel: Some models have the control panel conveniently located across the bottom
  • of the door, making it easy to reach. Other models feature an LCD touch screen for sleeker design and advanced usability.
  • CFM Power / Blowers: Blowers used in microhoods can vary from 175 to 300 CFM of air movement. The higher the CFM, the more effective the ventilation. Some models feature angled exhaust fans which allow for sleeker appearance. return to top

How can I further protect the investment of my new microwave?

Most manufacturers offer a one year limited warranty on their product. For as little as $50 Warners’ Stellian offers a Product Protection Guarantee designed to keep your new microwave operating as efficiently in the future as on the day you purchased it.

Our Product Protection Guarantee covers all functional parts and labor on your new appliance for up to two, three or five years. We offer in-home service anywhere in the continental United States and service personnel are available 24/7, via phone or web chat to assist you with your service needs. return to top

We hope you have found this buying guide to be useful and informative and we appreciate the time you took to read through it. If you have questions that were not answered by this guide, please feel free to contact us.